Reporting in conflict zones
Journalists should undergo hostile environment training, try and record any attacks on them and be ready to handle interrogations if captured. These were some of the recommendations made by media experts at the recently concluded
Among the topics discussed during the three day event were the role of media post Arab revolutions and the impact of social and electronic media on Arab politics. A workshop was also conducted for journalists to train them on how to protect themselves in hostile situations.
“In 2011, 106 journalists died from 35 countries with Iraq, Pakistan and Mexico topping the list,” said Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists. “This year many journalists have died in Nigeria and Syria.”
According to IFJ, one out of four journalists working in a war or conflict zone is likely to die but two-third of the killers face no trial or punishment.
“In 15 years the global rate of impunity has remained constant and I think impunity is the best tool to assess press freedom,” said Boumelha.
Qatar National Committee for Human Rights organised the International Conference to Protect Journalists in January 2012 and drafted out several recommendations for the UN, local and international governments, news organisations and journalists.
Some of them included recalling the declarations of the UN and Geneva Conventions, creating awareness among journalists about their rights and involving all NGOs to collaborate and evaluate the current status of media in conflict areas and discussing the draft convention to protect journalists in dangerous situations.
Hassan Rachidi, Doha Centre of Media Freedom consultant, called for all organisations to collaborate because “implementation of laws can be achieved based on cooperation not competition.”
Rachidi stressed that “we have to mobilise the management to believe that the protection of journalists is the responsibility of the employer and journalists should have the right to refuse to go to conflict zones.”
Role of new media and its future in the Arab world
At the session on social and electronic media, media gurus explored the impact and future of social media in the Arab world and the role of citizen journalists during the Arab revolutions.
Ben Bradshaw, former Secretary of State, Department of Culture, Media and Sport in UK said that it would be unfair to label the Arab Spring as Facebook or Twitter revolution because “other countries like Yemen and Libya who do not have many internet users were able to carry out a revolution successfully.”
However, Mustafa Sawaq, Director of Al Jazeera News in Doha did not want to undermine the impact of social media as “it gave us a better way to cover the revolution because we were prohibited to enter many countries for coverage.”
But all of this information flow comes with challenges. Sawaq explains that “Al Jazeera receives more than 1,000 videos each day and we need an army of staff to view this material and verify it for us.”
The panellists advised against ignoring the presence of new media and its usage because Arab countries’ media is evolving and the lines between traditional and other forms of journalism are becoming blurred as news networks increasingly rely on citizen journalists.
“Absence of freedom and censorship in totalitarian governments has led to the birth of citizen journalists and we need to note that this is a gift for us,” said Rachidi.
The forum is in its 12th year and the theme this year was democracy, development and free trade in the Middle East and the Arab world. It was attended by 610 delegates from 84 countries.